Monday, May 23, 2011

21st - 22nd May - Coracle Construction Part III

This weekend saw another trip down South for me, this time to the Ancient Technology Centre (ATC) in Cranborne, Dorset which provided the visitors from NAS a great setting to learn the skills and techniques used in Coracle construction. The site is a wonderful location with a number of replica historic buildings including a Viking longhouse, an Iron age round house and a Saxon workshop.

Our tutors for the weekend were Reg and Anthony, both brought vast expertise and knowledge to the subject though for Anthony it'd be the first time he'd actually built a coracle though the skills were familiar.

For those like me, who prior to a bit of pre-course research, had never head of a coracle it's a lightweight fishing boat built of natural materials and not a bit of metal in sight.

Our aim for the weekend was for the 14 course trainees to build three of these boats and test them out!

Our boats were to be made of hazel with a calico skin and covered with a waterproof sealant.

The first lesson was in the safe and effective use of the bill hook, a seemingly simple tool that we would have a great deal of impact on how sea worthy our vessels were. Selection and smoothing of the hazel ribs were reliant on making sure there were no sharp points that could puncture the thin skin we'd be applying later on.

After that began the process of planting the structural ribs into the ground and weaving and interweaving the side with more willow - a deceptively simple sounding task that took far longer for us unskilled trainees than I'm sure it ever took an for one of the original users of such craft.

While doing this other members of each building team got started on the paddle making, splitting chestnut for the blade and shaping the shaft. We also got a crash course in rope making, it'd be difficult to build without any cordage.

We also needed to make sure that once afloat (hopefully!) we didn't step through the hull so willow woven mats were required as feet rests.

To ensure we'd be ready to float on Sunday our last task of the day was to bend and tie the ribs over to gain our desired shape and weigh it down overnight to help it set in position.

For the hardy among us it was then a trip down the local pub for dinner before bedding down in the Viking Longhouse for the night.

The next morning we uprooted the coracle frames and prepared our calico skin, my group's vessel being slightly larger then the others was helped along with a little mechanical aid by stitching two sheets of calico together using a sewing machine to save time.

Seats were prepared and carved while the skin was sewn on and then covered in sealant.

Once dry of course we had to take the down to the pond and try them out.

Success was had by all in that each group's coracle floated, although the seamanship of a few (along with the inherent instability of a flat bottomed craft) cause more than one dunking!

Dreadnought as our coracle was dubbed was certainly the largest and most stable, indeed it fitted two crew without problem and would have probabaly been too large for everyday use but the Black Pig was certainly the most entertaining.

As well as learning some great new skills and gaining a much greater understanding of how such boats were built the weekend was terrific occasion to meet with up with fellow trainees from other courses. One thing that has been very apparent from my training so far is how many people keep coming back for more.

1 comment:

  1. Glad enjoyed the course David -love the names given to the coracles. Mark